When Purvis basketball makes its annual trip up Highway 589 to play Sumrall next season, it’ll be a familiar setting for new Tornadoes head coach Eric Cooper. However, the four-year letterman at Sumrall will be on the visiting bench.
Monday night, the Lamar County School Board approved the hiring of Cooper as Purvis’ varsity head basketball coach. Cooper spent the last two seasons at Dixie Attendance Center, where he served as the girls and boys’ junior high school head coach, and before that he was an assistant at Purvis from 2013 to 2015 under coach Charles Neely.
“It’s never easy to be on the visitor side when you’ve been on the home side so many years (at Sumrall), but I’m looking forward to it,” Cooper said. “I love all of the people at Sumrall. It’s going to be a great experience going back, and I just hope we can take care of business when we play them.”
Cooper’s first three playing years at Sumrall were spent in the old gym across the street from the new one on the high school campus, but his graduating class was the first to play in the new gym. Cooper said when he walks back into the gym he remembers all of the memories and hard work he put in as a player.
He also remembers the pole where he knocked out his two front teeth. He can even point and show you the exact spot, too.
After playing in the Bobcats’ program from 2005 to 2009 under coach Lee Ready, he spent time as a volunteer coach while completing his degree at William Carey. Then, he immediately began working at Purvis as a teacher, assistant varsity coach and head junior varsity coach after graduation.
Cooper said he learned a lot from his time under Neely.
“Just the amount of work that it takes,” Cooper said. “You can’t just go in there and expect something to be done. If you want something to be done right and have some type of success, you have to work for it and you have to earn it. Just seeing what it actually takes, that amount of effort and time it takes, that’s the biggest experience that I got from it.”
When the Purvis job opened up in 2015, Cooper applied for it, but his lack of experience as a head coach was his downfall. Todd Kimbel, who was hired as the Petal boys head coach in May, got the job instead.
Cooper then accepted the junior high head coaching position at Dixie, where he gained enough experience to satisfy Purvis when the job opened up two months ago.
“I knew I needed to get some experience somewhere,” Cooper said. “It truly was a blessing in disguise, and it came at a good time. When I applied the first time at Purvis, I wasn’t really ready for it, with all the responsibilities and things. But, when I took the head-coaching job at the junior high level, it showed me what I needed to work on and to get better at in general. That first year was a learning process and a learning experience, but that second year, I was rolling.”
The Tornadoes are coming up 12-17 season, but they made the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades. There’s no denying the Purvis program is on an uptick.
“It’s moving in the right direction,” Cooper said. “The kids are starting to see that they can do something in basketball at Purvis, and I think it’s going in the right direction. It’s just going to take us getting in there and putting in that work and make sure they can see that they can do it.”
For Cooper, it’s not only what his players can do on the court, but probably more importantly it’s what they can do off the court.
“If they go in the classroom and they’re a hard worker, that tells me when they’re in the gym, they’re going to be a hard worker. Just little things like that,” Cooper said.
Purvis Athletic Director Tony Farlow on the hiring of Cooper: “He’s just very passionate about basketball. I think he’s a good, young coach and I think he’s going to be a great head coach. He’s young and he has some things to learn, but most young head coaches do when they first start out. I think he’s going to be an asset for our program.”